aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

PowerPoint Versus Books

Posted by Ellen on July 17, 2010

Kudos to Tom Kuhlmann at the Rapid E-Learning Blog for posting “Want to Build Better E-Learning Courses? Think Beer.” Not so much for the beer analogy but for defending (as I have here, in at least one past post) the rightful place that informative courses have in the world of elearning:

“You’re either viewing or doing.  There are plenty of compliance and annual review type courses that are mostly informational.  While we could argue that all all courses need to be performance-based, that’s not going to happen.  Besides, the course is just one part of the learning process and sometimes all you need is information.

“It’s kind of like a text book.  Some you just read and reflect.  But some are workbooks that provide exercises for you to practice what you’re learning.  They all have their place in the learning process; just like elearning courses.”

But here’s the thing: in his comment, Den DiMarco wrote:

“Based upon the statement “It’s kind of like a text book. Some you just read and reflect.” the question that occurred to me is this:

“For this type of information delivery, why not just create a text document or a rich text document using, say, Microsoft word?”

Here’s a great example of an answer (with thanks to Maddie Grant at SocialFish for posting the link) to Den’s question (which I haven’t seen Tom respond to yet):

Paul Adams at Google posted this slide deck and I got all wrapped up in it (and it’s a Saturday morning, beautiful outside, and my bicycle is calling to me). It explains some fairly complex ideas around social networking design and does it all without audio, embedded video, clickable content, or other interactions.

What makes it more effective than a textbook or straight-out Word document is Paul’s use of graphics to make his points. His carefully chosen illustrations enhanced the text so that I could absorb what he was conveying.

And how is that different than a text document with pictures?

It’s hard to get a progression of images to work in a text document. But you can with PowerPoint, and Paul uses that to his advantage in this deck.

Yes, PowerPoint has its drawbacks. But when it’s used well, it can provide informative content when that’s all that’s needed, and be more effective than a static text document, keeping learners engaged through the entire presentation — as I was.

4 Responses to “PowerPoint Versus Books”

  1. Mirta said

    Power points are not textbooks. They enhance the visual learning and facilitate assimilation faster than long textbooks. Besides, we synthesize information transmitted, removing all comments and “trush” students will not need to pass our course. If any of them feels the need the go deeper, they know how to do it. This is among many other reasons what we train them for!

  2. Ellen said

    Mirta — I completely agree! Sometimes it’s just easier for people to make grand statements. “PowerPoint is no good.” “Textbooks don’t facilitate active learning.” Etc etc etc…

    We both know that each has its proper purpose. PowerPoints (PPTs) actually can convey some material very effectively. Textbooks have their place. They are not the same thing — no more than a well-produced Webinar is the same thing as a well-presented, face-to-face session.

    I’ve said it before and will say it again: it’s not the mode we should question, but how we use it.

    In her post, “Laughing in the Face of Death by PowerPoint,” Chris Willis reminds us of this and includes links to some great, alternative ways of using PowerPoint (and some funny demonstrations of how PPT can be used to destroy the intended outcome, rather than enable it). Having worked with K-12 kids as a Writer in Residence some years back, I especially appreciated her link to the various ways teachers are helping their young students read and write using PowerPoint.

    And those slides make it clear that kids — without other experience with PPT — know it’s more about the images than bullet points!

    Thanks for stopping by the aLearning Blog, Mirta!

  3. Mirta said

    Well I disagree with those detractors of power points. Images play their role, and if they have enough impact, they will be never forgotten, same with well summarized content (with or without the famous bullets).
    Power point somehow enhances the visual component of learning style.
    It can lead to powerful learning and reasoning. Needless to say it has to be approrpiately used, not missused or abused, like any other didactic tool.

    • Ellen said

      Mirta — We’re on the same page about the value of PowerPoint and its proper use 🙂 I do see a different side of “learning styles” than you do, however. Despite the lack of concrete research proving the effectiveness of training or educating individuals based on perceived “learning styles,” the belief in them persists. I’ve posted on this previously (see Yes, There Are No Learning Styles and Learning Styles Bunk. If you haven’t seen Will Thalheimer’s excellent research-based reports at Work-Learning Research and his informative blog, Will at Work, they’re worth your time.

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